Starting Your Own Nutritious EdibleGarden

Escaping the daily dose of gloomy news from near and far often seems impossible. Local reports of destructive floods and hurricanes predominate even as the devastating details of the earthquake in far away Japan continue to emerge. Increasingly frequent reports about radiation levels in the Japanese food supply compel scientists in the US and Canada to also measure and monitor the same.

Last year, as millions of gallons of crude oil gurgled into the blue Gulf of Mexico waters, who would have anticipated the forthcoming nuclear meltdown thousands of miles away on Japan's east coast. Although these events are separated by a great distance, parallel circumstances are difficult to ignore. Both events proved to be beyond our control and endangered parts of our food system. What can we do to prevent them in future?

As our environment continues to change, whether by human or natural agents, we can and should focus our enthusiasm on hopeful projects, rather than dissipating energy on matters that we cannot control. Starting an edible garden is a local example of how we can channel our energy towards a dynamic endeavor that yields not only a harvest of delicious and nutritious produce but also gives us peace of mind as we create our own controllable mini food system. Starting an edible garden may appear intimidating at first but, depending on its size, it is relatively simple.

At Ramapo College, we started an edible garden on the grounds of the president's house in the Spring of 2006. We began by locating the sunniest side of the house and then marked out the planting area. We dug into the ground and found rocks intermingled with soil. Like humans who need nourishment to grow, plants need nutrient rich soil, water and sun, in order to grow into lush bountiful plants. We decided to create 6 large (10 feet by 10 feet) planting beds containing organic soil. They would be ergonomically designed to allow long periods tending to the plants without back strain and they would also accommodate students in wheel chairs.

If creating large planting beds is not an option, find a container that accommodates your needs. As a novice gardener, the benefit of growing food in a small container is that you can transport it to a different part of your garden where growing conditions are optimal. A themed edible container is an ideal way to teach children about fresh food and its origins. For example, a "salsa container" would only have plantings of tomatoes, onions and cilantro. You could also add containers that require less maintenance such as a blueberry or raspberry bushes. The key concepts are imagination, simplicity and fun.

Dr. Jackie Ehlert is a nutrition educator/researcher and counselor that can be reached at or by visiting her website at